When you're shopping around, don't just check the big national mortgage lenders. Some regional or local banks may offer unique lending programs, especially for first-time homebuyers. For example, the young couple who bought a house from me a few years ago used a 100% financing program from Regions Financial that required no mortgage insurance for first-time buyers with outstanding credit.
Interest as a Tax Deduction – If you itemize deductions on your annual tax return, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to deduct home mortgage interest payments. For state returns, however, the deduction varies. Check with a tax professional for specific advice regarding the qualifying rules, particularly in the wake of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This law doubled the standard deduction and reduced the amount of mortgage interest (on new mortgages) that is deductible.
Mortgages and home equity loans are two different types of loans you can take out on your home. A first mortgage is the original loan that you take out to purchase your home. You may choose to take out a second mortgage in order to cover a part of buying your home or refinance to cash out some of the equity of your home. It is important to understand the differences between a mortgage and a home equity loan before you decide which loan you should use. In the past both types of loans had the same tax benefit, however the 2018 tax law no longer allows homeowners to deduct interest paid on HELOCs or home equity loans unless the debt is obtained to build or substantially improve the homeowner's dwelling. Interest on up to $100,000 of debt which substantially improves the dwelling is tax deductible. First mortgages and mortgage refinance loans remain tax deductible up to a limit of $750,000.
How much you can afford. Lenders will be happy to tell you how much they’re willing to lend you, but that’s not actually a good indication of how much house you can afford. Check out our affordability calculator to get an idea of where you stand before you start looking for houses. Remember that your monthly payment will be more than just principal and interest. It will also include homeowner’s insurance, property taxes and, potentially, mortgage insurance (depending on your loan program and down payment). You’ll also need to factor in utilities and maintenance.
You can opt for an interest-only mortgage where, as the name suggests, you just pay the interest every month. However, you’ll have to pay off the capital eventually so it’s important to have a repayment plan in place. The number of lenders offering interest-only mortgages has reduced over the last few years because there are concerns that many of those who have them have no repayment plan in place and could be left unable to pay back the capital at the end of the term.
A lender offers you a mortgage interest rate based upon a number of factors, but by far the most important is the secondary market for mortgages. Banks typically sell their mortgages to aggregators like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are government-sponsored enterprises that buy and repackage mortgages. Aggregators issue mortgage-backed bonds to investors in the secondary market. The daily fluctuations of supply and demand affect the interest rates investors require to buy these bonds. As the economy strengthens, investors require a higher interest rate on bonds because of growing competition for their investment dollars. Banks peg their mortgage interest rates to the daily interest rate on mortgage-backed bonds in the secondary market.
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If you are thinking about buying a home in the near future, it’s a good idea to check your credit report and find out what your credit score is early on. You are entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, which you can access at www.annualcreditreport.com. Check for mistakes on your credit report. A mistake on your credit report can cost you when trying to secure a home loan. Mistakes do happen, so review your credit report closely to ensure everything is correct and dispute any errors you might find with the appropriate credit bureau.
Before you close on your new house, your lender will require you to buy homeowners insurance. Shop around and compare insurance rates to find the best price. Look closely at what’s covered in the policies; going with a less-expensive policy usually means fewer protections and more out-of-pocket expenses if you file a claim. Also, flood damage isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, so if your new home is in a flood-prone area, you may need to buy separate flood insurance.
Tax benefits. The tax code currently provides tax benefits for homeownership. You may be eligible for a deduction for the interest paid on your mortgage, private mortgage insurance premiums, points or loan origination fees, and real estate taxes. And when you sell your primary residence, you may be able to exclude all or part of your gain on the sale of your home from taxable income.
In the beginning, you owe more interest, because your loan balance is still high. So most of your monthly payment goes to pay the interest, and a little bit goes to paying off the principal. Over time, as you pay down the principal, you owe less interest each month, because your loan balance is lower. So, more of your monthly payment goes to paying down the principal. Near the end of the loan, you owe much less interest, and most of your payment goes to pay off the last of the principal. This process is known as amortization.
When you apply for a mortgage, you will need to provide your lender with a number of financial documents. Having these documents already assembled will help accelerate the processing of your loan application. At a minimum, you should be prepared to provide your last two pay stubs, your most recent W-2, your last two years of tax returns, and current bank and brokerage statements.
The amortization chart below (courtesy of the Federal Reserve) shows how the proportion of your payment that is credited to the principal of your loan increases each year, while the proportion credited to the interest decreases each year. In the later years of your mortgage, more of your payment will be applied to principal, helping you build equity faster.
It’s easy to get carried away planning for the year ahead. But take a moment to put your goals and your numbers in perspective, especially when budgeting your monthly mortgage. This can apply to both refinancing and buying a house. “Standard guidelines call for keeping housing expenses below 35 percent of total income,” Kevin Gallegos, consumer finance expert at Freedom Debt Relief, says. “Some experts are revising that number down to 28 percent.”
Catholic Charities also runs a number of free foreclosure counseling programs. They have locations across the nation, and case managers at many centers specialize in dealing with housing issues, including mortgage delinquency and providing more general homebuyer assistance. The services also deal with overall credit counseling and repair. All services are free to qualified families, and locations are approved and certified by HUD. Read more on Catholic Charities free housing counseling.